For the past three years, indoor cycling aka spinning has been a huge part of my life. My job at Cycle Rhythm involves recruiting, evaluating and assessing our instructors as well as maintaining our studio equipment. I’ve got high standards and I’ve learned a great deal about what separates an average class from an amazing class.
Indoor cycling has experienced tremendous growth in recent years, both in boutique fitness studios and big box gyms. There seems to be a new studio opening in London on an almost monthly basis. I try to keep up with changes in the industry and ensure Cycle Rhythm is ahead of the game, by checking out what our competitors are offering. Last week, I was invited down to the newly renovated Fitness First at Fenchurch Street to take part in one of their spin classes.
What makes a great spin class?
The average member of the public might not have an opinion of the choice of bikes, however I’m an indoor cycling geek so I was curious to see what Fitness First had chosen to equip their new studio with. It turned out to be Star Trac Spinner Blade cycles, which I must admit I’m not a huge fan of. The resistance is controlled by a dial and there is no console to display data making them feel outdated in today’s market. Chain-driven bikes can also feel clunky if not properly maintained.
Proper bike set-up is essential to maximise your experience of the class and avoid injury. Too often I see people riding with their saddles too low or without the handles securely tightened. It’s part of the instructors role to ensure that both beginners and experienced riders are set up correctly before the class starts. Instructors should also run through the main hand positions and body positions which they will use during class.
Studio sound and lighting
The sound system and lighting concept in a fitness studio really work together to create the whole experience. At Fitness First, they’ve gone for a pared-down approach with coloured light bars along one wall. The opposite wall is lined with mirrors to reflect the light around the room. The sound quality was great and music volume was appropriate.
Part of the Cycle Rhythm experience is about monitoring and tracking performance metrics, which are displayed on a screen at the front of the room. The approach at Fitness First is much more low-tech, with no use of data either on the bikes or on screen. Personally, I find that the use of technology really enhances a cycling class in terms of motivating me to ride harder.
Does the instructor look the part? Are they wearing appropriate clothing and cycling shoes? Are they clean and presentable? I found it strange that the instructor at Fitness First wore a long-sleeved top throughout the ride. It gave the impression that she was cold and therefore not working up a sweat, which in turn makes an impression on the class participants.
Instructor- Motivation and Personality
An engaging and energetic personality really goes a long way when leading a spin class. Being an instructor is about coaching and motivating the class- their enthusiasm effects the overall atmosphere of the room. There is nothing worse than being taught by an instructor who is simply ‘going through the motions’ without any passion.
Every spin class should begin with an introduction. The workout should have a clear structure and purpose which is communicated to the participants at the beginning. Will the focus be on sprints or hill climbing? How long will each interval last? There should always be a defined warm-up, main workout and cool-down. I notice that a lot of instructors tend to launch straight into a sprint without properly warming up the participants, which can lead to injury.
The beat of the music sets the mood for the class and playlists should reflect the profile of the workout. Music is obviously a very subjective choice and it’s impossible to please everyone’s tastes. No matter the choice of genre, it’s important to ride in time to the beat of the music, adjusting your speed and body position accordingly.
One of my personal bugbears is when an instructor stands on the pedals to stretch calves and hamstrings. It damages the pedals as they were not designed to be used in that way. Always dismount the bike before stretching. Stretches should target the main muscle groups used during the class.
Upper body workouts
Edited to add… One of my biggest no-no’s is movements like press-ups or the use of hand-weights whilst cycling. These exercises are ineffective and potentially dangerous. Upper body workouts have no place in the cycle studio. Thankfully, Fitness First opted not to include these in their classes, and it’s something you’ll never see at Cycle Rhythm.
All photos credit: Ben Kapur
What makes a spin class great for you? Anything you like to see (or not see) in a class?